6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
This passage is a call to repentance. It is not only to the sinner, but to those who think that they are holier than others. If you look into the text preceding this parable, we see Jesus is responding to a common belief that has somehow tricked down through the ages. The question is do people suffer as a punishment from God for sin? More specifically do people die as judgement from God for sin? IN the case of the Jews, they wondered if the Gentiles would receive a greater punishment because their sins were worse than the Jews? Jesus, tells them that those who had suffered, referencing the verses before, were not any worse a sinner than those of whom he was talking to. Then he tells them directly that their fate is the same, unless they repent. Then he illustrates his reasoning with this parable in Luke 13:6-9.
In this illustration, we see the owner of the fig tree who is talking with his servant about the tree. The tree was planted with the owner hoping to have the fruits that it would yield. He probably imagined like many of us would, that the tree would be a big and strong tree with many fruits. He may have imagined that he could one day lay under the shade of the tree and reach up and take a fig and enjoy the sweet delights of his investment. Maybe he could share some with neighbors, or make delicate cakes or jams with the honey like figs. He could gain joy from showing his tree off to his friends and telling them how it was just a twig when he had first planted it.
But today, was one more day among many where he had walked out to the tree and it sat there, fruitless. Most fig trees take three to five years to start ripening fruit. We should assume that because the master was the owner of the vineyard, that he had already considered this. He waited until the customary time that they tree should be producing the fruit he so loved to eat. The story even tells us that it had been three years. So, year after year this owner waited in patient hope that the tree would start new stem growth and produce ripe figs in due season. Finally, the day has come. The owner can no longer justify to himself the need to let the plant continue to waist valuable soil in his fields. He calls his servant, “Cut it down and burn it.” He says with a sad and frustrated heart. So many hopes for the little tree were now gone. It was time to make room for another tree that would hopefully bear some fruit.
The servant, however, pleads on behalf of the tree. Please! Let me ease the ground surrounding the roots of the tree. Let me then put dung on the roots. Let me soften the soil and put in some fertilizer and give it another season to have a chance to mature and to be pleasing to you. Then if it bears fruit, we can continue to care for it and rejoice over the tree. But, if it does not then we know we tried everything and gave it every opportunity to produce good fruit and I will remove it from the field. The master then relents and continues in patience as the servant begins his tasks of breaking up the ground and seeding the dung about the roots of the tree, then I would imagine the faithful servant waters the soil and undoubtedly prays for good fruit in due season.
There are some things to learn about God in this parable. Some spiritual truths lay hidden in the telling of this story by Jesus. It is an example of the expectations, judgement, and patience of God the Father. We can see the interceding of the servant. Much like the intercession of Jesus Christ, our great high priest before the mercy seat of God. I think it such an amazing thing that God has taken the time to give us his reasoning as to why he does some of the things he does. Surely if God has taken to time to give the why behind the what, we should sit up and listen.
Expectations of God
Here in this analogy given by Jesus, we see a very reasonable expectation. The owner of their vineyard expects his fig tree to give him good fruits. He expects figs to come from his fig tree. Now we can understand that likely Jesus was talking to Israel who had been planted in the promised land and was expected to be God’s people. As God’s chosen, they were to be an example to the nations of how to worship God. Israel was to expound upon the nations of the world that Jehovah was the only God. They were expected to bear fruit for him.
In like manner we as the Church are expected to show forth fruits in showing that Jesus is the only name by which a man can be saved from their condemnation. (John 3:15-19) But not just any fruits. We are expected to produce good fruits. Fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8). The fig tree was expected to produce figs. We are expected to produce fruits according to our kind also. (2 Corinthians 9:10) The Apostle Paul confirmed this to the Romans saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”(Romans 12:1) Here we see that Paul explains that if you believe in God, then it is reasonable that you should do what he expects, that is to produce good fruit. In the following verses in Romans 12 we see that this good fruit of self-sacrifice includes: non-conformity to the world, transformation by renewing of the mind, being an example of what is good and acceptable to God, being humble, and walking in faith. Sounds like the same things that God expected of Israel. Listen this is not to be saved, but to those who have been redeemed. It is a reasonable expectation for them,… for us,… the redeemed of the Lord.
In Matthew 7:16-20, Jesus tells us exactly what is expected. He says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” The apostle Paul tells us the manner and reason for our salvation.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
The problem with the fig tree is that it was producing no fruits at all. They were neither good nor bad, they were nonexistent. By their fruits you shall know them… A fig tree that does not produce figs is a dead fig tree. James writes, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”(James 2:26) Now take a look at what Jesus said, “every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” A dead tree does not bring forth good fruit. A dead tree is good for nothing and is cut down and burned.
Judgement of God
In the Gospel According to Matthew we see just how sudden and final this judgement is by an example that Jesus makes of an actual fig tree. Here is that telling. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. (Matthew 21:19) The master came to the tree, expecting to find the good fruit that he desired. In finding no fruit, the tree was judged to be just as bad as a tree that brought forth bad fruit. The lack of fruit condemned the tree. Jesus just said since you will not bear fruit, I have not need for you to take up space in the field. How many ministers have stopped producing fruit by being complacent in their Sunday schools, and pulpits? How many churches had failed to produce fruit after years of neglect in their neighborhoods? How many of us who claim to believe in Jesus have never labored to produce the fruits of righteousness in our lives? We have failed to tell family members. We live in complacency. We tell ourselves that everyone knows that we are Christians and if they want Jesus they will come and ask. We ignore the commandment to preach, teach, and to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19-20) We know what is good and acceptable to God. Shall we not be judged? James tells us, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17). If then, what we fail to do is sin to us, are we not like the fig tree? Have we not behaved like Israel? Are we not in error of our reasonable sacrifice? No wonder so many churches are dying. Think not that even though we are forgiven of sin, that we should not be held accountable for our deeds, or lack thereof.
Romans 2:6-10 – Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
Was not the Lord talking to the church when he said, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” (Revelation 2:5)? But even so in this statement we see the patience of our God. He says to remember, to repent, to do the first works… or else! He will come and remove thy candlestick. The master of the vineyard said, cut the unfruitful tree down. It serves no one any good. Judgement came to the unfruitful tree, and to Israel, and to the unfruitful church.
Patience of God
We however are blessed. Like to good master who waited patiently for many years for the fig tree to mature our Father waits patiently for us. He is not hasty to be angry with us (Ecclesiastes 7:9). He forbears us with love. He is long suffering towards us. The psalmist writes, “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” (Psalms 86:15) This truth is echoed throughout scripture.
- 1 Peter 3:20 – Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
- 2 Peter 3:15 – And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
- 2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
- Numbers 14:18 – The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
- Exodus 34:6 – And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
So, in here we see all kinds of examples of the patience of the Lord. We even learn that the longsuffering of our Lord is what gives us our salvation. This gospel of Grace through Faith is the result of God patiently suffering for us to redeem us at the proper time. The perfect example of this is how Jesus prayed for Jerusalem when he spoke, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). Yet there is even a limit to the patience of God. Just as the master prepared to lay the axe to the fig tree, so to we see the chilling statement the Jesus added after his plea to Israel. “Behold you house is left to you desolate.” (Matthew 23:38)
Provision of Christ
Like the servant of the master who breaks up the ground and fertilizes the roots with dung, Jesus intercedes for both Jew and Gentile. For the scriptures do say this concerning the work of God towards us who believe on the name of Jesus.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27) So here we have the servant dunging up the roots. We are weak in our flesh, yet the Spirit strengthens us in our hope of what we cannot see. The Spirit intercedes for us with prayers that cannot be understood, nor voiced by the lips of men. It is the Spirit that lives in us that knows our every weakness and what is necessary for us to grow in our faith. He cries out to God the Father to ask for the things we need to remain faithful. The we see here also that Christ himself intercedes for us in Romans 8:34. The Word of God says that who can condemn us? Surely it is not the one who died in our place and who rose again. The very one who sits at the right hand of honor and authority of God the Father does not seek to judge us. Instead, he also intercedes for us before the Father. The scars from his wounded hands, feet and side are a constant witness to the Father of the atonement that he has made by his own blood. Why then would he commend his anger towards us, of whom, he has cleansed? So we have no fear of eternal condemnation. Our salvation is intact in whom we have trusted, in Jesus Christ the Son of God who is the Lamb who was slain for our sin.
Knowing this then are we ok to become complacent at our good fruit? No we are should be ashamed at such an attitude of complacency. Once again, I defer to the Apostle Paul on this matter.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
We are now dead to the old world and to the old ways of living in the world. We have become strangers in strange land. Our soul existence is in Jesus Christ. We cannot be charged with sin, and yet we cannot return to our old land, as Israel tried to do when delivered from the bondage of Egypt. We have been delivered from the slavery of sin and death and must now press on the promised land of the Kingdom of God. With so great a provision made for us, that we are now new creations in Christ and called the sons of God, how can we not seek to be fruitful in good works?
John 6:28-29 – Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
This is what makes us to be fruitful. We believe in Jesus Christ. We walk in faith looking forward to the completion of our redemption. We walk in the boldness of being the children of God through Jesus Christ. We put away the shameful behaviors because they no longer define us. Remember James told us that faith without works is dead. So then work out your faith. Not for salvation, but because you believe that you are already dead to sin, and alive in Christ. If you are alive in Christ then you are free to bear the fruits of righteousness today. So dung up your roots and be fruitful. Pray and study that you may be encouraged and your faith may be increased, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Go get your shovel.